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Hang 'Em High

Claire Folger/Warner Brothers Pictures

Richard Jewell (2019)

There are at least three aspiring heroes in Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell”: Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), the security guard turned suspect at the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing in Atlanta; Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), an F.B.I. agent investigating; and Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter covering the story. How the three disparate attempts at heroism parallel and intersect might have made an interesting movie in expert hands, but "Richard Jewell” isn’t it. The film focuses on the demonization of Jewell by law enforcement and media, while itself hypocritically vilifying Shaw and Scruggs in the exact same fashion.

It respectively depicts Jewell as the prototypical Coen Brothers overzealous dimwit with an outsized hero complex and warped sense of justice, the F.B.I. as exploiting the gullibility of a police buff in framing Jewell, and the journalist as an opportunistic go-getter willing to bed a federal agent for a scoop. As Inkoo Kang smartly puts it in Slate, the film is a “libertarian fable” both antigovernment and antimedia.

The lazy clichés in Billy Ray’s screenplay notwithstanding, the Journal-Constitution is currently demanding that Warner Brothers add a disclaimer (not spotted at the advance screening on Dec. 10) because there is no proof Scruggs ever exchanged sex for information and she is no longer alive to defend herself. This defamation is so egregious that everyone overlooks the film’s other depiction of workplace sexual misconduct between Jewell’s attorney, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), and secretary, Nadya (Nina Arianda).

Any journalist who has been around long enough is bound to meet or gossip about a reporter as depicted here. But that reporter would always be the exception, not the rule. The trope perpetuated by Mr. Ray of women using sex as currency to get ahead is a remnant of the good ol’ “casting couch” Hollywood that is so far removed from the #MeToo era. Such eager beaver stereotyping has enabled men in Hollywood to abuse their power under the presumption that women are willing to do what it takes, including dropping their panties, to succeed. By extension of the same logic, who is to say the relatively unknown Mr. Hauser did not sleep with Mr. Eastwood in order to land this juicy role originally meant for Jonah Hill? One thing for sure, Alison Eastwood would not have enjoyed the opportunities available to her as an actress and filmmaker if her mother did not sleep with Mr. Eastwood. But just because that works out for some, it doesn’t mean everyone else is doing it, too.


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